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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 1, Number 25, June 21, 2004

This weekend, Floridians will gather in backyards and at beaches to celebrate this great nation and the freedoms we enjoy as citizens.  

One of those freedoms is the right to celebrate as you wish, but it does not mean you have the right to put the lives and property of others at risk.  In Florida, fireworks – items that launch or explode – are illegal.  That’s because thousands of Americans are killed or seriously injured by them every year.  A disproportionate number of these injuries are to children. 

 Fireworks are available for sale in many locations, but are legally available only to those who have a permit from their local government to use them for specifically exempted purpose.  Do not be lulled into signing “a waiver;” this will not protect you if you are caught using fireworks illegally, especially if someone gets injured. 

 Freedom does not come free.  Remember all of our troops who are serving in foreign lands and won’t be home this year to celebrate the Fourth of July with their loved ones. 

In fact, consider joining a community celebration.  Enjoy the holiday and do it safely.  

                                                                                                              -- Tom Gallagher



GALLAGHER BOLTS ON FIRST FIREFIGHTER SPECIALTY TAG

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher joined the Florida Professional Firefighters Association and City of Tallahassee firefighters last Thursday to officially kick off the sale of the new “Florida Salutes Firefighters” specialty license plate.  The patriotic-themed plate was inspired by the September 11th terrorist act.

“The world has changed since Sept. 11, 2001,” Gallagher told firefighters who gathered at a Tallahassee fire station to watch him bolt the first plate on to a fire truck.  “Our state’s domestic security strategy depends heavily on you -- your training and your readiness to respond to any kind of disaster.  It is our goal at the State Fire Marshal’s Office to do all that we can to support your work.”

The plate is available to all registered vehicle owners for an additional $20 plus $2 processing fee.  The extra $20 goes to Florida Firefighter Charities, the charitable, non-profit arm of the Florida Professional Firefighters Association.  Fees generated from the sale of the license plate will be distributed back to local, eligible charities chosen by firefighters in counties where it was sold. 

Visit www.firefightertag.com for more information. 


WATER QUALITY AND THE FLORIDAN AQUIFER CONNECTION IN WAKULLA COUNTY

The Governor and Cabinet, serving as the Administration Commission, posed the question of a connection between water quality and the Floridan Aquifer to Wakulla County in a recent decision finding a proposed land use change not in compliance.

The proposed land use change would have allowed approximately 266 acres in Wakulla County to be changed from a rural-2 and agricultural zoning to urban-1 in anticipation of residential development.

The Governor and Cabinet agreed with the recommended order of an Administrative Law Judge that found the land use change not in compliance.

Upon the motion of CFO Gallagher and unanimous consent by the Governor and Cabinet, they further directed Wakulla County to establish the extent of the wetlands on the proposed development before determining whether the site is suitable for the proposed use.

The Floridan aquifer is one of the highest producing aquifers in the world. It is found throughout Florida and extends into the southern portions of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. This aquifer system is comprised of a sequence of limestone and dolomite, which thickens from about 250 feet in Georgia to about 3000 feet in south Florida.  The upper Floridan aquifer is the principal source of water supply in most of north and central Florida.  Groundwater flow is generally from highs near the center of the state towards the coast. The Floridan aquifer is the source of many springs in Florida.

Spring Creek is adjacent to the proposed development.

As the greatest group of all of the aquifer's springs, Spring Creek lies just offshore of the community named for it in Wakulla County.  Not only is Spring Creek by far the largest known spring cluster, but its main spring may be one of the the largest single springs in Florida. Spring Creek appears to have several first-magnitude springs, and at low tide these flows present the most dramatic boils of any Florida spring as they come up in the salt-water estuary on the coast. The area is surrounded by the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.


CONGRESS CONSIDERING STATE SALES TAX DEDUCTION REVISION

Thursday, June 17, 2004, the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. voted on H.R. 4520, legislation that includes a provision reinstating the state sales tax deduction.  By restoring this deduction that was eliminated in 1986 during revision of the federal tax code, taxpayers in states without an income tax -- like Florida -- would be allowed to deduct their state sales tax from their federal tax return. State income taxes are still deductible from federal income taxes. For 2004 and 2005 — at a cost to the U.S. Treasury of $3.6 billion — the bill would let taxpayers deduct either tax, -- whichever is the highest. 

An average family of four would save nearly $300 in federal income taxes annually. It gives greater fairness to the tax system by treating taxpayers in all 50 states equally and ending the federal bias against sales taxes. If it becomes law, a taxpayer could either save receipts or take deductions from a chart of estimated sales tax based on income and the size of the family.

Florida Senators Bob Graham and Bill Nelson support the provision in the House bill, spokesmen said. But the Senate version of the bill doesn’t include the same provision. As a high priority for the House leadership, the Senate could accept the provision in conference. Or it could be traded away from the combined version of the bill. 

Governor Jeb Bush has been lobbying Congress for the past two years to restore the deduction.

 Florida’s CFO Tom Gallagher supports this provision of the bill for the good of Florida taxpayers. “It will provide needed tax relief combined with economic stimulus for the state. I will encourage Congress to pass this and make it a permanent part of the federal tax code,” Gallagher stated.

 Citizens can email, fax, call or write Florida’s senators to encourage the inclusion of this important revision.


CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTOR FALSIFIED WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COVERAGE, INVESTIGATORS SAY                          

The owner of an Indian Harbor construction company has been charged with workers’ compensation fraud after jeopardizing the coverage of at least one employee, according to investigators with the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud.

“Florida workers deserve to be protected in case they are injured on the job,” said Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who oversees the Department of Financial Services.  “An employee without coverage who is seriously injured or disabled stands to lose not only his livelihood but also the benefits he needs for medical bills and recovery.”

Investigators say Carl T. Nicks, 42, of 1891 State Road AIA #201 in Indian Harbor, submitted falsified workers’ compensation insurance certificates to at least two general contractors in order to secure a contract for services.  On at least one job site, an employee of Nicks was injured and did not receive benefits until the general contractor’s workers’ compensation carrier paid more than $30,000 in medical payments and attorney’s fees.

Nicks, owner of A1A Restoration and Construction, Inc., was charged with four counts of workers’ compensation fraud.  He was booked into the Brevard County Jail, with bond set at $4,000.  If convicted on all charges, Nicks faces up to 20 years in prison.

Nicks was previously arrested on similar charges in December 2003.  This case is currently pending trial.

Under Florida law, employers in construction-related industries, who have one or more employees, must maintain workers’ compensation coverage for their employees. 

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation insurance.  Anyone with information about this case or another possible fraud scheme should call the department's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to a conviction.


 

AGENTS CHARGED WITH ISSUING FAKE INSURANCE CERTIFICATES

Two Orlando agents are facing numerous felony charges for allegedly issuing fraudulent workers’ compensation certificates to employers who needed them to apply for business licenses.

Marcia V. Richardson, 40, and Eilean Webb, 45, both of Orlando, were arrested Tuesday on charges of uttering a forged instrument.  Richardson, the former owner of Hamilton Insurance Agency at 5265 Alhambra Drive, is charged with 15 counts.  Webb, who currently operates E. W. & Associates of Central Florida at 6905 W. Colonial Drive, is charged with five counts.

“These agents put injured workers at risk of having no coverage to pay for medical care,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who also oversees the Department of Financial Services. “If convicted, they deserve the maximum penalty under the law.”

The department’s Division of Insurance Fraud conducted the investigation and made the arrests.  The women face up to five years in prison on each count.

Between November 2002 and January 2003, Richardson issued 15 certificates of insurance, which investigators said contained fraudulent policy limits, incorrect additional insureds, or erroneous addresses.  Investigators said Webb issued five fraudulent certificates from March 2003 and July 2003. 

The consumers, unaware that they didn’t actually have coverage, presented the fraudulent certificates to the City of Orlando/Vehicle for Hire Section, Greater Orlando Aviation, and Osceola County Board of County Commissioners to obtain permits to operate their businesses.  The certificates alleged to provide coverage amounts between $25,000 and $1 million.

Richardson voluntarily surrendered her insurance license in February 2003, and Webb is facing possible administrative action against her agent license.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates fraud in all types of insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation.  To report information about a possible insurance fraud scheme, call the department’s fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445.  A reward of up to $25,000 may be offered for information leading to a conviction.


FLORIDIANS URGED TO CELEBRATE JULY 4 SAFELY, LEGALLY

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher is urging Floridians to think about safety as they make plans to celebrate the Fourth of July.  He also is encouraging local law enforcement officials to enforce the state’s fireworks laws.

“Every year, thousands of Americans are killed or critically injured by fireworks, and more than half of those are typically children,” Gallagher said.  “For that reason, fireworks are illegal to use without a permit.  If it launches or explodes, it is off limits.”

Gallagher instead is encouraging Floridians to attend a professional fireworks display or enjoy any of the hundreds of legal sparklers listed on the State Fire Marshal’s web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/sfm

Illegal fireworks include shells and mortars, multiple tube devices, Roman candles, rockets and firecrackers.  Floridians should not sign “waivers” in order to purchase fireworks. “A waiver will not clear you of responsibility should you be caught using them,” Gallagher said. Using fireworks illegally is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Even if you are using legal sparklers there is still a risk of injury.  When lit, some sparklers can reach temperatures between 1,300 and 1,800 degrees, which is at least 200 degrees hotter than a standard butane lighter.  Follow these precautions to celebrate safely.

  • Use sparklers and other legal novelties on a flat, hard surface.  Do not light them on grass.

  • Use sparklers in an open area. Keep children and pets at least 30 feet away from all ignited fireworks.

  • Light only one item at a time and never attempt to re-light a “dud.

  • ”Don’t use any unwrapped items or items that may have been tampered with.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher or water hose on-hand for emergencies.  It’s a good idea to drop used sparklers in a bucket of water.    

Gallagher also reminds Floridians to check the batteries in their smoke detectors. 


Florida Department of Financial Services'
Consumer Services HelpLine (800)342-2762.